February 1, 2019 / 8:39 PM / 3 months ago

GM meets with lawmakers over racism allegations at Ohio plant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior General Motors Co executives met this week with Ohio’s two senators and other lawmakers on Capitol Hill after African American employees sued the automaker accusing it of allowing a racially hostile work atmosphere.

FILE PHOTO: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), (L), makes remarks to the press as Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) listens after a meeting with General Motors (GM) Chairman and CEO Mary T. Barra on Capitol Hill to discuss GM's recent announcement to close four U.S. plants and lay off some 15,000 employees, Washington, U.S., December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Theiler?/File Photo

The lawsuits, which were first filed in April, got wide attention after CNN reported on them in last month.

The suits said numerous nooses were found in 2017 at a GM plant in Toledo that makes transmissions and listed other conduct, including drawings of stick figures on bathroom walls with nooses around their necks and that racially-charged comments were directed at black employees.

Alicia Boler Davis, GM’s executive vice president for global manufacturing, and Gerald Johnson, vice president for GM’s North America Manufacturing and Labor Relations, met on Tuesday with Ohio Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown and held meetings with other lawmakers, the senators’ offices confirmed on Friday.

Brown and Portman had written to GM last month seeking answers to additional questions about the racism allegations at the plant.

Johnson, in a statement, said he was “outraged that any of our employees would be subjected to harassment.”

“My heart goes out to anyone touched by this bigotry. GM’s stand is clear: We have zero tolerance for racist or discriminatory behavior. This behavior is unacceptable and we’re going to drive it out of the workplace,” the statement said.

Brown said the senators met jointly with GM “to share our outrage about the pattern of racist incidents reported by workers at the Toledo Powertrain plant. We expressed our disgust that the racist behavior went unaddressed for more than a year.”

Portman spokeswoman Emily Benavides said Portman “made clear that GM must address this issue more forcefully and do so very quickly.... The fact that it is still going on at the GM plant in Toledo is outrageous and unacceptable.”

The suit alleges that GM failed to take “prompt corrective action” at the plant with 1,700 employees, creating “an atmosphere whereby the hate-driven employees felt free to hang nooses, display racist graffiti, and verbally attack and racially insult African-Americans.”

A GM spokeswoman confirmed the previously unreported meetings with lawmakers.

GM also said it referred the issue to police to investigate and that after its own investigation it disciplined some employees and fired others, but did not identify how many personnel were impacted.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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